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The Enlightened Economy: An Economic History of Britain 1700-1850 (The New Economic History of Britain seri) Hardcover – February 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“Mokyr’s book is a splendid achievement.”--Edward Glaeser, The New Republic

(Edward Glaeser The New Republic)

“It is impossible to do justice to the subtlety and detail of "The Enlightened Economy"; it is the product of a lifetime of research and thought, and stands as a landmark work of history...its perceptive examination of the birth of economic prosperity holds many arresting insights for our fraught economic times” –Trevor Butterworth, Wall Street Journal

(Trevor Butterworth The Wall Street Journal 2010-07-30)

"This book is beautifully executed from beginning to end. . . . This study of British industrialization is certain to be a classic text for generations to come."—Margaret Schabas, American Historical Review
(Margaret Schabas American Historical Review)

About the Author

Joel Mokyr is Robert H. Strotz Professor of Arts and Sciences and professor of economics and history, Northwestern University, and Sackler Professor at the Eitan Berglas School of Economics, Tel Aviv University.


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Product Details

  • Series: The New Economic History of Britain seri
  • Hardcover: 550 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300124554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300124552
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,997 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jay C. Smith on November 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Joel Mokyr believes the extensive literatures on the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution have remained mostly disjointed from one another. In The Enlightened Economy he seeks to connect them.

Mokyr acknowledges multiple ingredients of the British Industrial Revolution (1700-1850) -- favorable location, mineral resources, a pre-existing middle class, artisans' skills, and so on -- but he argues that "the real factor that transformed the economy was the general drive for progress and not just its various manifestations." He credits what he calls the "Industrial Enlightenment" with creating an environment where technical and practical knowledge was valued and readily disseminated.

He proposes that the Enlightenment abetted economic development on another front, as well: it helped place "rent-seeking" (mercantilist policies of monopoly and privilege) on the defensive, as the ideas of Adam Smith and others filtered into political discourse.

These connecting sinews between Enlightenment thought and economic development seem plausible enough, although one might quibble that Mokyr is stronger at asserting the nexus than he is at demonstrating it compellingly. The bulk of his book, in fact, is not especially dependent on the scaffolding of this theme and could easily stand alone.

Mokyr weighs various debates regarding the relevant economic history and renders a number of judgments which may challenge some readers' prior understandings.
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Format: Hardcover
This very good book is an effort to solve the "little problem" of the Industrial Revolution, why Britain industrialized earlier than other European nations, and by addressing the "little problem," solve the "big problem" of why Europe industrialized first. Filling out an argument he has sketched out in prior books, Mokyr presents a very good case that the European Enlightenment was a key factor in the genesis of the Industrial Revolution. Mokyr suggests that the Enlightenment dedication to expanding human knowledge, a scientific-materialistic approach to nature, and use of knowledge to improve human existence is a key feature of the Industrial Revolution. He argues well that this Enlightenment propensity was more widely diffused in Britain than in other European nations, and this accounts to a considerable extent for the innovative character of the British economy and technology development. Mokyr is very careful to specify that what he terms the Industrial Enlightenment was a necessary but not sufficient cause of the Industrial Revolution. While he criticizes, in a very thoughtful way, a number of other treatments of the genesis of the Industrial Revolution, he regards the birth of the Industrial Revolution in Britain as a complex, multifactorial process that involved a baseline high standard of living, favorable economic and political institutions, prior existence of a dynamic commercial capitalism, favorable endowments of key resources (coal), and some particularly important technoligical leads.

Mokyr presents a very convincing argument for his thesis. He discusses the nature of the Industrial Enlightenment and studies many different aspects of the British economy across the century and a half of the period to support his arguments.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Vasco De Gama in 1498 became the first European to travel to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope. He came in three ships carrying approximately 300 men. He presented to the local Indian king diplomatic gifts that represented the best of European technology and culture. The King laughed at these offerings. The bald fact was that Europe had nothing new or original to offer the East.

Approximately a hundred years before, the Chinese eunuch admiral Zeng He of the Ming Dynasty had made multiple voyages to India, Indonesia and the east coast of Africa. He sailed in fleets of boats that were the biggest wooden boats that have ever been built and manned by as many as 30,000 men.

In the late 16th Century, Francis Bacon observed that mankind's greatest inventions to date were: (1)Gunpowder, (2) the Compass, and (3)Printing. Unbeknownst to him, all three (including woodblock printing and moveable type) had been invented by the Chinese hundreds of years before. Later commentators to Bacon added a fourth great invention: (4)low cost paper. But paper too had already been invented by the Chinese by a scholar of the Han Emperor in approximately 150 A.D.

Was there ANY invention from Europe that Indians or Chinese could have borrowed? The answer, unfortunately, is an emphatic, "No." Inventions flowing from East into Europe, beyond those already mentioned include: waterwheels, the crank handle, the bellows-fed forge , canals and canal locks, water-tight compartments for ships, the stirrup, ceramic and porcelain, hydraulics, among the more significant.

B. How then did European technology (and that of the British in particular) become so overwhelmingly dominant by 1800? And why did Eastern technology stagnate?
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